The EU Deforestation Regulation and Its Impact on Smallholder Coffee Farmers

The European Union has taken a big step in its environmental and sustainability efforts with the introduction of the European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR). This landmark regulation aims to combat global deforestation and forest degradation by controlling the import and export of certain commodities, including coffee, that are linked to deforestation. As noble as its intentions are, the EUDR presents a complex challenge, especially for smallholder coffee farmers who play a crucial role in the coffee supply chain. Let’s delve into what the EUDR entails and explore its potential impacts on these vital contributors to the coffee industry.

Understanding the EUDR

The EUDR, effective from June 29, 2023, mandates that commodities entering the EU market must not contribute to deforestation or forest degradation post-December 31, 2020. This includes a range of products from cattle, wood, cocoa, soy, palm oil, coffee, to rubber, and their derivatives. The regulation is a response to the EU’s commitment to reducing its environmental footprint and promoting sustainable consumption patterns.

(Ghosal, 2024)

Key Provisions of the EUDR

  • Deforestation-Free Requirement: Products must be certified as not contributing to deforestation or forest degradation.
  • Due Diligence Obligations: Companies are required to conduct risk assessments and ensure traceability throughout their supply chains, proving their products comply with the EUDR.
  • Enforcement and Penalties: Non-compliance could result in significant penalties, including fines and restrictions on market access.

(Wagemans, 2023)

The Ripple Effect on Smallholder Coffee Farmers

The EUDR casts a wide net that will ensnare smallholder coffee farmers, many of whom are already navigating the challenges of climate change and market fluctuations. Here’s how the regulation could impact them:

Increased Costs and Market-Access Hurdles

Compliance with the EUDR means added costs for certification and potentially for adopting new farming practices. Smallholders, with their limited resources, may find these costs prohibitive, threatening their access to the EU market.

Technological and Financial Gaps

The requirement for detailed traceability and risk assessments could widen the technological and financial divide between smallholders and larger agricultural entities. Without access to necessary technologies or the capital to invest in them, smallholders might struggle to meet the EUDR’s stringent requirements. Consider the difference in how smallholders in general leverage the Internet. It is still not uncommon for smallholder farmers’ only access to the Internet to be through a smartphone.

Marginalization and the Path Forward

There’s a real risk that the EUDR could marginalize smallholder coffee farmers, favoring larger, industrial operations that can more easily absorb compliance costs. By tapping into certification programs, leveraging collective action through cooperatives, and engaging with NGOs and government bodies for support, smallholders can navigate these new waters.

Advocating for Smallholder-Friendly Policies

The implementation of the EUDR underscores the need for policies that consider the unique challenges faced by smallholder farmers. Advocacy for simplified compliance procedures, financial and technical assistance, and increased support for sustainable farming practices is crucial. Moreover, diversifying markets can serve as a buffer, reducing smallholders’ dependency on the EU market. Transitioning already-struggling coffee farmers out of coffee should also be considered.

See also: Transitioning Coffee Farmers Out of Coffee

Several organizations have stepped up to offer (read; sell) support for smallholders navigating the EUDR. For example; Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade International, and Satelligence are offering tools, partnerships, and initiatives designed to bridge the gap between smallholders and compliance with the EUDR.


The EUDR represents a significant step towards addressing global deforestation, but it’s imperative that its implementation does not come at the expense of smallholder coffee farmers. As the EU and other stakeholders work towards sustainable consumption and production, support for smallholder coffee farmers must remain a priority.

  1. Ghosal, A. (2024). ‘Winners and losers’: The world of coffee is being reordered by EU laws to stop cutting of forests.
  2. Wagemans, M. (2023). A high-level introduction to the EU Deforestation-Free Regulation (EUDR).
  3. Rainforest Alliance Supports Companies to Make a Big Leap Towards EUDR Compliance. (2024).
  4. Myers, A. (2023). Fairtrade partners with Satelligence to boost cocoa producers’ deforestation monitoring.

Michael C. Wright

Michael is a licensed Q Grader, licensed Q Processor Pro, an Authorized SCA Trainer (AST), and most recently, a graduate with a degree in horticulture and a concentration in horticultural business management. He has over ten years experience in the coffee industry operating on both the supply and demand sides of the value chain.